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Pittsburgh Pirates: 2011 MLB Season Preview

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Pittsburgh Pirates: 2011 MLB Season Preview
J. Meric/Getty Images

Last Year: 57-105, sixth in NL Central 

Manager: Clint Hurdle 

 

PROJECTED LINEUP

C- Chris Snyder (R)

1B- Lyle Overbay (L)

2B- Neil Walker (S) 

3B- Pedro Alvarez (L)

SS- Ronny Cedeno (R)

LF- Jose Tabata (R)

CF- Andrew McCutchen (R)

RF- Garret Jones (L)/Matt Diaz (R)

The 2010 Pirates were one of the league's worst offenses, but the club should score more runs by having some of the younger players in the lineup for a full season.

I like what the Pirates have offensively in the outfield. Jose Tabata, who is my KEY/BREAKOUT player for the Pirates, will hit leadoff and play left field. Garret Jones will play the other corner and will probably bat sixth in the lineup. He should provide 20 HR while batting .250/.310/.445. Matt Diaz will probably play against left-handed pitchers; he should hit .285 or so in his appearances. Andrew McCutchen is the Pirates best all around hitter. McCutchen performed well in his first full season in the majors (3.3 WAR), and I expect for him to improve on those numbers. Watch out for a great season with 18 home runs, 33 SBs, and a .295/.370/.470 line.

Chris Snyder figures to get most of the at-bats at catcher, but Ryan Doumit figures to get some playing time there until he is traded. Snyder doesn't hit for average, but has good power for someone at his pitcher. Expect 15 home runs and a .215/.325/.395 line. 

Pedro Alvarez is this franchise's future, and he showed his strengths and weaknesses during his first season in the league. Alvarez's at-bats resulted in a strike out 34.3 percent of the time, but he showed his power by hitting 16 home runs in 386 at bats. I expect Alvarez to belt close to 30 HRs with a .270/.350/.490 line. Ronny Cedeno isn't a bad offensive option at shortstop who should hit around 10 home runs and .255 out of the number eight hole.

Neil Walker was a surprise for the Pirates after being called up in late May. While he might not hit .295 again (he had .340 BABIP in 2010), Walker isn't a bad option as a second baseman with 15-18 home run power and .275/.330/.445 line.

Overbay returns to the National League after spending five seasons with the Blue Jays. Overbay doesn't have the greatest power, but he does have a solid on-base percentage. Overbay should hit anywhere between 15-20 home runs with a .270/.360/.450 line. 

The Pirates were ranked last in UZR in 2010 mostly because of the Pirates' terrible range. Tabata is the club's best defensive player in left field with a 7.8 UZR rating.  McCutchen had a terrible year in center field (- 14.4 UZR) because of his the terrible routes he takes on fly balls. He has too much speed to have that poor of an UZR rating.

Jones and Matt Diaz are slightly below average in RF. Snyder is one of the batter catchers at blocking balls in the dirt, and he possesses an average arm behind the plate.

Overbay is above average at first base, but Walker's inexperience at second base may compromise the right side of the infield. One the other side of the infield, Cedeno and Alvarez have below average range. 

 

BENCH

IF- Josh Rodriguez (R)

1B/OF- John Bowker (L)

OF/C/1B- Ryan Doumit (L) 

C- Jason Jaramllo  (R)

OF- Matt Diaz (R)

 

STARTING ROTATION 

LHP- Paul Maholm 

RHP- Ross Ohlendorf 

RHP- Kevin Correia 

RHP- James McDonald 

RHP- Charlie Morton 

The Pirates had the worst pitching staff in baseball last season, and I have a hard time believing they will reproduce the same putrid numbers in 2011. The poor defensive range definitely hurt the rotation's numbers.

 

Paul Maholm struggled with a 5.06 ERA, but that number was inflated by a high BABIP and low left on base percentage. I do worry about his drop in velocity, 89 MPH in 2009 to 88 in 2010, and his drop in strikeouts. We should see him bounce back with an ERA in the 4.40 range which probably would lead to the Pirates trading him around the deadline.

Ross Ohlendorf had a terrible record at 1-11, but his ERA was at a respectable 4.07. Ohlendorf throws a sinking fastball at 91 miles per hour and compliments it with a good slider and below average changeup. He doesn't record the ground balls that a sinkerballer should record, and he needs to get his BB rate back to where it was in 2009 (2.9). Expect him to strike out six and half per nine and record an ERA around 4.30. 

Kevin Correia is the one offseason addition the Pirates made to the rotation this offseason. Correia averages 90 MPH on his fastball and will mix in a good slider, average cutter, curve and change. His strikeout, walk, and HR rates are all below average, so it's hard to imagine him pitching to an ERA lower than 4.50.

James McDonald, acquired in the Octavio Dotel deal, has the highest upside of any Pirates starting pitcher. He will be the ace of the staff by the end of the season with a 3.50 ERA and a strike rate close to 8.5 per 9. He throws three above average pitches including a 91-93 MPH fastball, devastating changeup, and curveball.

 

This trade was the best move Neil Huntington has made in his tenure as general manager. Charlie Morton was the worst starter in baseball last season. Morton should improve, but his HR and BB rate lead me to believe he won't be a viable starter in the league. 

 

BULLPEN

RHP- Joel Hanrahan (Closer)

RHP- Evan Meek  

RHP- Chris Resop

LHP- Joe Beimel 

RHP- Jeff Karstens 

LHP- Garret Olson 

LHP- Brian Burres or RHP- Chris Leroux or RHP- Daniel McCutchen   

Joel Hanrahan will get the ball as the closer after having the most successful year of any Pirates reliever in 2010. Hanrahan throws a 96 mile per hour ball with one of the better sliders in baseball. He should strikes out more than a batter per inning, and he might be one of the lone bright spots on this Pirates' pitching staff.

Evan Meek took a lot of the fanfare from Hanrahan's great year because of a sparkling 2.22 ERA. Meek's ERA was heavily defeated by the .224 BABIP, but he should pitch at a mid 3 ERA because of the amount of ground balls he generates and a good 7 K/9 rate.

 

Chris Resop impressed in his short stint at the end of the year. He hasn't been able to stick with a club, but his strike and home run rates have always impressed. Joe Beimel and Garret Olson will be the left-handed relievers for the Pirates. Beimel puts up good numbers despite his low K/BB rate and lack of dominant pitch. Garret Olson was picked up off of waivers a few days ago, but his high walk rate makes him a replacement level reliever. Jeff Karstens and Brian Burres should fill out the rest of the pen. They will work in low-leverage situations and long relief. 

 

NOTABLE NON ROSTER INVITEES 

LHP- Joe Beimel 

LHP- Brian Burres

RHP- Jose Veras

RHP- Sean Gallagher 

RHP- Tyler Yates

IF- Josh Fields (R)

IF- Andy Marte (R) 

KEY PLAYER- Jose Tabata 

 Pedro Alvarez will have the best season among all Pirates hitters, but Tabata may be just as important in the for franchise's long term plans. Tabata has the potential to be a consistent .300 hitter and 30 SB type of player. Scouts have been impressed by his raw ability, but equally impressed on how he has cut his strikeout rate and improved his walk rate in each level he reached over the last few seasons. I see him having a line around .295/.350/.405 line with 30-35 SBs and 10 HRs. 

 

 

PROSPECT TO WATCH- RHP Jameson Taillon 

 Tallion was the number two overall pick in last summer's draft. Baseball America likens him to Stephen Strasburg, and Fangraphs called him the best high school pitching prospect since Josh Beckett. He hasn't pitched at any level in pro ball yet, but Taillon will establish himself quickly in the minors. He is reported to throw as hard as 99 MPH and a good curveball. 

 

PROJECTED FINISH- sixth in NL Central

I don't have to spend much time explaining this pick. This 2011 team is almost identical to the squad that finished last season. I don't think the starting rotation will under achieve as much as it did in 2010, but the poor defense won't help the group's cause. The lineup has some lackluster veterans, but players like McCutchen, Tabata, and Alvarez have tons of talent. The Pirates are destined to stay in sixth place in this division, but they will improve upon their terrible 2010 season.  

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